History of the Chicago Artesian Well, George A. Shufeldt, 1866
It was sometime in the summer of 1863—July or August two gentlemen from Maine, Mr. Thos. J. Whitehead and Mr. A. E. Swift, visited Chicago on private business of their own. They were strangers here, ignorant of Chicago, its soil, surface and surroundings, and bent wholly upon matters foreign to the subject and substance of this narrative.
These gentlemen happened to be of the Spiritual faith, and met many times in a circle formed by themselves, Mrs. Caroline Jordan, a writing medium, and Mr. Abraham James, hereafter referred to. The meetings of these persons and the holding of circles were, apparently, accidental, and without any particular designs other than those which usually attend such gatherings, and attention was first attracted by a communication in writing given through Mrs. a matter of great importance and significance would soon be made known; and, in pursuance of this intimation, it was shortly thereafter written, with an explanatory preface, to the effect that great doubts prevailed in the human mind as to the reality and truth of the spiritual communion, many persons altogether disbelieving in the existence of any of the alleged phenomena; hence, a practical test or demonstration was necessary, in order to remove these doubts and to place this fact beyond the possibility of cavil or dispute and then the revelation came:
- That beneath a certain tract or piece of land, near the city of Chicago, Petroleum existed in large quantities, and could be obtained by the ordinary process used for that purpose. And it was further declared and stated that underneath this ground would also be found a well or stream of the best, purest and healthiest water known anywhere, which would rush to the surface with great force and power, and was in quantities sufficient to supply the people of this city for all time to come, and that this water would be found and used for that purpose.
It has been, frequently stated, through the medium, that the Petroleum and gases from this ground, and their products, would be used for the purpose of illuminating the streets and houses of this city, but as this statement may seem extremely problematical to many, I simply give it as it came, and leave the future to prove or disprove it.
Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1864
We have just visited the new Artesian Well of the Chicago Oil Company, about three miles west of the lake. This company have been boring for oil since December last, of which they had abundant indications in the bituminous limestone at the surface. They have discovered small quantities at varying depths from 50 to 500 feet, but no paying quantity as yet. With a perseverance worthy of all commendation, however, they have pushed their investigations to a depth of over 700 feet; but latterly, while working their drills at the depth of 708 feet from the surface, the rod suddenly sunk about 15 feet, and the well at once began to overflow with water, pouring out with great force and deluging the whole surrounding region.
This water is now flowing at the rate of about 400 gallons per minute. It rises five feet above the surface, and was yesterday carried up 12 feet by a rude experiment with stove pipes; with tubes properly adjusted, to be applied in a day or two, it will no doubt be carried 20 feet above the surface or about 45 feet above the lake level. The bore is five inches in diameter, and the capacity of the well is not less than half a million gallons daily.
The water is very pure and clear, of a slightly sulphurous odor. Its temperature is about 65 deg. Fahrenheit. It flows out in the cold atmosphere clear as crystal, and runs off in a stream large enough to carry a small mill. It forms a most pleasant contrast to the dead level of the prairie, and will be of great service in beautifying the West Side with delightful fountains.
This discovery seems very opportune, and we commend it as a Providence to all who seek to reform the filth of our water. The abundance of the supply and the force which brings it to the surface will doubtless be adequate for all the wants of the West Side. It is about a mile and a half from the West Side reservoir and could readily be connected with it and replace the foul and poisonous water, rank with death, now dealt out to our citizens. We trust that early and earnest attention will be given to this new source of supplying our city with wholesome water. It will be years before the tunnel can be completed and it is still very doubtful whether it will work any permanent lafrovement in our water if completed successfully.
Strangers Guide to Chicago, 1866
THE ARTESIAN WELLS.
The visitor to Chicago should not fail to see the Artesian Wells. Situated at the corner of Chicago and Western Avenues, a little more than three and a half miles from the CourtHouse, they are easily reached by taking a Randolph street car to the city limits, whence the distance to the Wells occupies but a few minutes’ walk. The perpetual, never-ending flow of these splendid fountains, fed from some unknown reservoir of water, located, perhaps thousands of miles away under the shadow of the mountain peaks of the Pacific coast, must ever remain a subject of interest, a source of wonder, to every tourist.
It is claimed that the revelation of a spiritual medium led to the boring of these wells. However that may be, the tract of land on which they are situated was bought in October, 1863, by a company of sanguine individuals, who shortly afterward commenced sinking a well for petroleum. It should be mentioned that the medium already referred to had asserted the existence of oil in large quantities underlying this tract of land. The medium further declared that beneath this ground would also be found ” a well of the best, purest and healthiest water known anywhere, which would reach to the surface with great force and power, and in quantities sufficient to supply the people of this city for all time to come.” The boring was commenced in December, 1863, with a diameter of five inches. In the following January, the work had to be abandoned, the tools getting fast at the bottom of the well. Another having been commenced in February, 1864, the work progressed slowly and gradually until November of the same year, when water was struck at a depth of seven hundred and eleven feet below the surface. And this water has continued to flow, and is still flowing steadily and constantly, at the rate of 600,000 gallons daily.
Shortly after reaching the water, as above described, the company sunk another well to the depth of about forty feet, in the hope of finding oil. This well will eventually go down to the depth of fifteen hundred feet, if necessary; but at present it is stopped. About one hundred gallons of petroleum have been secured by pumping.
In May, 1865, a twenty-foot overshot wheel and the necessary machinery for boring having been constructed, work on the second well was commenced, the power being furnished by the water from the first well, which is carried up twenty-five feet above the surface in a three-and-a-half inch tube to the flume, whence it is discharged over the wheel. This second well is located about nine feet from the first, is six hundred and ninety-four feet and four inches in depth, to the surface of the water, was commenced on the 8th of May, 1865, and reached the water on the 1st day of November following. There are no observable geological differences in the two wells, the rock through which they are sunk being almost the same in character and exhibiting the same signs of oil. In the absence of any means of accurate measurement, it is conjectured that the two wells are now flowing about twelve hundred thousand gallons every twenty-four hours!
Chicago Artesian Well Company Stock Certificate
Chicago Tribune, September 29, 1865
Decidedly the greatest artificial curiosity in or near Chicago is the great Artesian Well at the corner of Chicago and Western avenues, three and a half miles from the Court House, or business center of the city, in a northwesterly direction. Here is a well of four inches in diameter which from a depth of 711 feet spouts forth, as is claimed, half a million gallons of the purest water, every twenty-four hours, and this great gush of the aqueous fluid has continued for ten months without perceptible cessation or diminution.
Crowds of visitors are attracted thither every day—some days as many as eight hundred to a thousand. The West Side Horse Railway cars on Lake street approach within half a mile of the well, and it is the intention of the company to extend their track to it, if the quantity of water is found which the owners are genuine of developing within the next six months. The new well has now reached a depth of 618 feet, and it is hoped to strike water within three weeks, as the progress per day now averages about four to five feet.
Our readers will remember that some persons began boring for oil in December, 1863, under spiritual directions, a trance-medium haring assured them that abundance of petroleum world be found at a certain depth under the limestone quarry at the western limits of the city, where the stone for macadamizing our streets is procured. The limestone thereabouts exhibits strong “surface indications” of petroleum. It required no “spirits” to create the belief in the mind of many persons that oil might exist in that vicinity at some depth.
As we remarked, the boring for oil began in December, 1863. In the January following, when at the depth of 65 feet, the drill got stuck fast and the well was abandoned, and the work had to be commenced de novo. The second well progressed steadily from February, 1864, until November, 1864, when the water was struck at a depth of 711 feet. Whew the bottom of the rock was broken through into the subterranean lake or strewn, the water gushed up with great force, carrying up large pieces of stone, and has run a powerful stream ever since. The first thirty-five feet is through limestone saturated with petroleum. Immediately under this is a stream of that we call here Joliet marble, one hundred feet in thickness. It crops out at Athens and Joliet, and furnishes our favorite building stone. Below this marble la a stratum of conglomerate of sand and flint of 105 feet in thickness. Beneath this is a layer of blue clay or unformed rock of 150 feet thick. The drill next penetrated the upper surface of the Galena limestone, at a depth of 527 feet. At 539 feet the first regular band of sandstone was entered, which is 71 feet thick. Below this another band of limestone containing flint and sulpherets of iron was struck. At this point considerable gas escaped from the well, so much as to carry up the clippings of the drill, which were washed away and the borers had nothing by which to determine anything farther in relation to the geological formation. The drill continued to go down until at the depth of 711 feet the “head of the barrel” was knocked in, the arch of the rock ran penetrated, and the water suddenly burst forth on the 26th or November. 1864-ten months ago. It la claimed that oleaginous indications were met with on the way down, but one thing is certain—that while is a flowing well, beating anything at Pit Hole in quantity, the substance is water, and not oil.
The Superintendent was not able to ascertain the depth of the cavity, nor the strength pf the subterranean stream; but it is certain that be developed the finest Artesian well, perhaps to the world. There la no well known which discharges so large a quantity of cold, pure, palatable water. The Passy Artesian, near Paris, has a much larger bore, and furnishes more water, but is warm—coming up from a depth of 1,800 feet and can only be used to parks and for irrigation. The Belcher well, at St. Louis, is 2,200 feet deep, and discharges about one-fourth as much water as the Chicago Artesian well. The water is 75 deg. F., and impregnated with mineral substances, and has so with disagreeable odor as to be useless for domestic purposes. The two wells at Charleston are 1,259 feet each, discharge 1,200. gallons per hour, water blood-heat and brackish. In Iroquois and Kankakee counties, Illinois, are a large number of small Artesian wells of 30 to 100 feet in depth, used for supplying cattle on farms. There are several large Artesians ina China, some of which have been flowing for 800 years; but we know little of the quality of their water. The Columbus, Ohio well we believe, was abandoned after boring down half a mile in depth. The well at Jackson, Michigan, is over 2,000 feet—no water and abandoned. No Artesian well ever struck give promise as to quantity and quality equal to the one in this city.
THE NEW WELL.
The water escaping from the Chicago well, an one readers bare been previously informed, is carried twenty-five feet above the surface in a tube, and out of the top of this pipe the water flows into a flume or trough and is conveyed to the top of an overshot wheel, twenty feet in diameter, which is used as power to drive the drills and machinery of the new well now rapidly approaching completion. The actual power thus obtained is about six or seven horse; but the wheel, with the same elevation of head, might easily have been constructed twenty-eight feet in diameter, by digging a tall race and carrying the wheel up to the level of the flume that receives the water—thus increasing the power to that of double its present force.
The new well war commenced last spring—the bore being five inches in diameter. It has been carried down to 618 feet in depth, and yesterday lacked but 93 feet of reaching the level when the other struck—not oil, but what is more valuable to the city-pure water. The new well in sunk within a dozen feet of the flowing one. When the water is reached, it is the intention of the energetic Superintendent, Mr. W. T. B. Read, to ream It out to a diameter of eight inches. When this is done an over shot wheel of 28 feet will be constructed, and with the water from the new well the power will be supplied to ream out or widen the old well to fifteen inches dlameter. If the subterranean force of water is found to be great enough to supply this magnitude of bore, the second well will be enlarged to the same size or perhaps to twenty inches.
The present well discharged through a four-inch tube at the surface of the ground, at the supposed rate of 80 gallons per minute, or half a million per day. This is the estimate of the proprietors, but we think it is much too high, sod that 200 gallons per minute, or 300,000 per day, are the outside of its capacity. Calling it 200 gallons per minute, or four millions per day, which, we should roughly estimate, would furnish with a 28 feet over shot wheel, at least 150 to 173 horse power. About a fortnight ago, the drill at the depth of 610 feet got fast in the rock, and a piece, two feet of the upper end of the drill rod broke off, leaving twenty feet of three-inch rod, and the drill, in the bottom of the well. It was a very delicate and difficult job to get it out, and required some very nice calculations to make an instrument that would seize hold of the rod,, pull it loose, and bring it up; but patience, perseverance, and Yankee ingenuity overcame the difficulty, and at the end of ten days’ labor the grappling tool seized fast hold of the bar, and the water wheel triumphantly brought up the broken rod. This was last Saturday. By Tuesday the drilling recommenced, and is now proceeding through a hard rock at the rate of four or five feet per day. We shall watch for the second jet d’eau with considerable interest. There is a bare chance that no water may be found. The present well may happen to be on the rim or edge of a gap or edge of a subterranean river, and the new well though but a dozen feet to the west of it, may be beyond the Lethean Stream-(we mean hidden, not infernal.) But the chances are 1,000 against one, that at lees than 100 feet below where the drill now is, it will strike a gushing fountain. The question of greatest uncertainty is, what quantity of water this subterranean river will give forth to the people of this goodly city. According to all precedent, Artesian wells are limited in their capacity. It is the intention of Messrs. Shufeldt and Croskey, the proprietors, to test this question pretty fairly. Two fifteen inch wells, flowing with the force of the present four inch one, would supply the people of Chicago with sufficient water for all domestic purposes, and of a quality immeasurably superior to the filthy stuff now sucked out of the margin of the lake, and equally good, as any that can de procured, even tho miles from the shore through the proposed tunnel.
SUPPLYING THE CITY.
Some of our citizens think that work on the tunnel ought lo be suspended until it is demonstrated whether the Artesian wells can supply the city; but this would not be wise, for several reasons. The Tunnel once completed will be a sure resource for centuries to come, while the Artesian supply might give out or be tapped by speculators until quantity became inadequate, and to buy them off to shut their well might require considerable bonus or black mail. Again, the city can made a much better bargain with the Artesian proprietors if able to supply itself with good pure water at moderate expense, than if reduced to the alternative of consuming the present unsavory stuff or paying for the Artesian liquid what its owners might demand. It is well for the city to have an extra string to its bow.
It Is the professed wish and object of Messrs. Shufeldt and Croskey to supply the people of Chicago with an abundance of pure and wholesome water—as “pure as crystal and clear as diamond”-at half the cost or less than by the present method. They propose to carry up an from tube, fifteen inches in diameter, to a height of seventy or eighty feet, and as the surface of the ground is thirty-one feet above the level of the lake, this would afford a head or pressure of 100 feet above all the business portions of the city.
It is claimed that when this “water is once in common use that erysipelas, boils and eruptive diseases will disappear, and that bane of our Western cities, low typhoid fever, will be abated in Chicago”—ail of which remains to be proven.
ICE-CHEAP AND PURE.
In addition to the sanitary and culinary advantages from a cheap, perennial river, with an outward flow from the bowels of mother earth, to the citizens of Chicago, the proprietors are contemplating other advantages to be derived therefrom. They have purchased and enclosed with a substantial fence, forty acres of ground. Within this space they are creating a pond, a reservoir of thirty acres, for making ice, Contracts are let and the work commenced to erect ice houses at the margin of the pond, of the capacity of fifty to sixty thousand tons, and this quantity of ice will be cut and stored this winter. It will be the purest ice to be fond anywhere in the world. It ie proposed to supply this ice to purchasers, on the ground, at $1.25 per ton. The Galena and Northwestern tracks pass within a hundred rods of the proposed pond, and will put in side-tracks for the conveyance of the ice crop to the heart of the city.
This reservoir it is proposed to convert into a pleasure lake in summer for row boats, and a grand skating park in winter for the “steel clads” to chase the moonbeams with flying feet.
It is also the intention of the proprietors to utilize the aqueous crystal flow in other ways. An extensive paper mill is in contemplation. The water, from its great purity, is admirably adapted to this purpose. Cotton and woolen factories are also embraced within the plans of utility, if the quantity of water will justify it. A small structure is now being erected for the purpose of washing wool, A woolen factory will naturally follow this pioneer.
A small park is being laid out in front of the well, with a handsome macadamized drive around it. Shade trees will be planted in it, and in the centre is to be placed a handsome fountain. In the rear or to the west of the wells, is being constructed baths and bathing houses, and a little lake for swimming purposes.
In short it is the intention of the owners to exhibit true public spirit in the distribution of this great gift, and to dispense it on every side with a liberal hand.
Map showing location of wells
Western and Chicago Avenues
Robinson Fire Map